Japan Fears Loss of Code From U.S. Plane to China

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Japan Fears Loss of Code From U.S. Plane to China

By Shigehiko Togo Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday, April 14, 2001; Page A14

TOKYO, April 13 -- Military experts here are worried that Japan and the United States will have to change their secret communication system, at a cost of millions of dollars, as a result of Chinese scrutiny of top secret equipment aboard the U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane on Hainan Island.

Japan and the United States are close military allies and share intelligence through a coded system.

A top Defense Agency official said Japan is waiting for reports from the United States about how much of the communication system was destroyed by the crew of the U.S. Navy plane before its emergency landing in China on April 1.

If the system was compromised, "to renew the whole system would cost a huge amount of money and time," said the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Japan has five EP-3s similar to the U.S. Navy aircraft, and conducts its own intelligence flights, collecting electronic signals and communications to gather information such as the operation of radar, early warning systems and troop movements in other countries. That intelligence-gathering is not threatened by the capture of the U.S. plane, said Ken Sato, deputy director general of the Defense Agency.

But Japan and the United States share the information and some operational codes through a communication system that might be in jeopardy, said Kazuhisa Ogawa, a leading military analyst.

The system has two components, according to Ogawa. A data-sharing system transmits information via computer, he said, and an IFF -- identification of friend and foe -- system makes it possible to differentiate allies and adversaries during combat.

If the American EP-3E crew did not have time to destroy the hardware and software aboard the plane, it could have a serious effect on intelligence, Ogawa said.

The codes used are computer-generated, changing each time, and "it is simply impossible to decode it" no matter what the Chinese have found, Ogawa said. But it is possible Chinese experts could use the information to block the communication system.

"If China could acquire that information, they can fly their own [planes duplicating an] EP-3 on top of U.S. and Japanese ships, and effectively block their operations," Ogawa said.

The Japanese defense official said nothing will be done until American investigators determine the extent of the loss.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A15477-2001Apr13?language=printer

2001 The Washington Post Company

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 14, 2001


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